Military Historian Agrees with Bernie Sanders: Hillary Clinton is an Unreconstructed Hawk

April 08, 2016


Andrew Bacevich

historian and author of the new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. He is professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University.

In the Democratic presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders has often clashed with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about U.S. policy in the Middle East. At one debate, he accused Clinton of being "too much into regime change." We ask military historian Andrew Bacevich for his assessment.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Colonel Bacevich, we are in New York right now, though we’re headed out on a 100-city tour around the country. But right now New York is ground zero for the presidential race, both for the Republicans and for the Democrats. The Democrats—Sanders, Clinton—the big debate right now over these days is each of them are saying the other is not qualified. I want to go back to the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire last year, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders accusing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of being, quote, "too much into regime change."

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: But I think—and I say this with due respect—that I worry too much that Secretary Clinton is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be. Yes, we could get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that destabilized the entire region. Yes, we could get rid of Gaddafi, a terrible dictator, but that created a vacuum for ISIS. Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow, but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS. So I think, yeah, regime change is easy, getting rid of dictators is easy. But before you do that, you’ve got to think about what happens the day after.

HILLARY CLINTON: Now, with all due respect, Senator, you voted for regime change with respect to Libya. You joined the Senate in voting to get rid of Gaddafi, and you asked that there be a Security Council validation of that with a resolution. All of these are very difficult issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders says Hillary Clinton, among other things, is not qualified simply because she voted for the Iraq War. Colonel Bacevich?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I don’t know that I would judge somebody’s qualifications simply on one particular vote, but I have to agree with the basic argument that Senator Sanders is making, that Secretary Clinton is an unreconstructed hawk. Now, in terms of the rhetoric, she comes across as more reasoned than the Republican opposition, but the fact of the matter is, if we elect her to be our next commander-in-chief, we are voting for the continuation of the status quo with regard to U.S. national security policy, and specifically U.S. national security policy in the Greater Middle East. So, for people for whom that is an important issue, who want to see change in U.S. policy, she’s not going to be the vehicle for change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you—you’re a veteran of Vietnam. After Vietnam, the United States got rid of its citizen or volunteer—its drafting of soldiers into the military, and created a volunteer army. You’ve been a critic of that. Why?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think that one of the unintended consequences of ending the draft, creating a professional military, was to create a gap between the military and society. Now, we don’t acknowledge that gap. Matter of fact, we deny the existence of that gap by all of the rhetorical tributes that are paid to the troops and the obligation that we all have to, quote-unquote, "support the troops." The reality, I think, is that when it really comes down to it, the American people don’t pay much attention to how the troops are being used. And because they’re not paying attention, the troops have been subjected to abuse. That is to say, they’ve been sent to fight wars that are unnecessary. The wars have been mismanaged. The wars go on far longer than they ought to. And we respond by letting people in uniform be the first to board airplanes. And I think, frankly, that that is disgraceful and that it actually ought to be one of the things that gets discussed in a presidential campaign, but tends not to, sadly.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what do you want these presidential candidates to say to—well, we’ve introduced you as a retired colonel, as a Vietnam War veteran, as a professor emeritus, but you’re also a dad, and you lost your son in Iraq in 2007, like so many parents in this country, also like so many Iraqis who lost family members. What do you want these presidential candidates—what do you want to hear from them? What do you want them to say to you?

ANDREW BACEVICH: What they ought to say to us, not simply to me because of my personal circumstances—what they ought to say is: "I understand that we, as a nation, have been engaged in this war for going on four decades now, and I have learned something from that experience. I have taken on board what the United States tried to do militarily and what it actually ended up doing and what the consequence is that resulted. And here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s how I’m going to ensure, if you elect me commander-in-chief, that we will behave in ways that are wiser and more prudent and more enlightened in the future." In other words, they have to look beyond simply the question of how many more bombs are we going to drop on ISIS. That is a secondary consideration. They have to have some appreciation of the history, that I try to lay out in this book.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Andrew Bacevich, retired colonel, Vietnam War veteran. His latest book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. He’s professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University and is traveling around the country, will be in Providence, is going to Washington, D.C., is going to be speaking at the naval—a naval conference and many other places. You can go online. We’ll link to his website at This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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